Fwd: Transcription of Tera (Nigeria); comparisons with work on Welsh (UK)
dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Tue Jul 12 04:51:02 UTC 2005
FYI... According to Ethnologue, this language has about 100,000
--- In AfricanLanguages at yahoogroups.com, "Donald Z. Osborn"
<dzo at b...> wrote:
FYI. This is an interesting item about language work in part of
Nigeria with comparisons to work on Welsh. (Link from H-Hausa).. DZO
'It is the year of Africa. Let's support them in education' Jul 7 2005
Jenny Rees, Western Mail
Dr Paul Tench has been working with a community in Nigeria to record
their language in written form for the first time since the 1930s.
Here he describes the work done to form a new written language and
the comparisons between the Tera language and Welsh.
AGAINST the background of tensions and conflict in Nigeria in recent
years, a new determination has emerged to assert local self-identity,
their language and culture, a distinctiveness from the majority
Compare to Wales in the 1950s: monolingual Welsh-speaking children
having to be educated in primary school in a "foreign" language.
The political will transformed the linguistic landscape of Wales and
brought about a sense of nationhood, respect for the local language,
government support for initiatives in education, and the media,
literature, and public bilingualism.
This sense of concern in Gombe State, in north-east Nigeria, led to
an approach to an American linguistics charity, The Seed Company.
They respond to local initiatives with expertise in developing a
spelling system and training in translation, principally for Luke's
Gospel. They assembled a small team of linguists to analyse the local
languages of Gombe State, in response to these local initiatives.
Small teams gathered for a three-week workshop held in Gombe State.
One such team represented the Tera language - two retired men, a
civil servant and a teacher, educated and able to read and write in
Hausa and English.
We recorded a story, played it back word by word, phrase by phrase
and they attempted to spell their language from their knowledge of
Hausa and English spellings.
The theory behind the project is that language is in the mind; we
carry a large stock of words in our minds - all the words we know.
They represent all the things, qualities, actions and so on that we
have ever experienced for ourselves.
We carry all the grammatical patterns we know - they represent all
the kinds of situations we have experienced (who does what to whom).
We know what is acceptable, what is not and what is marginal. We know
how to be polite and impolite, how to put a message across, how to
get things done. All this is stored in the mind. We also know how to
pronounce all our words - there may be a few that we feel rather
uncertain about, but we are able to learn how to pronounce any new
word we come across.
We have in our minds a pronunciation system for English which
consists of a number of vowels and consonants, stressed and
unstressed syllables, rhythm and intonation. The whole of this
pronunciation system is in the mind, ready for use any time we speak.
Even illiterate people have all this in their minds - what they don't
have is a spelling system in their minds that they can use.
We can teach them. But what about people who don't have a spelling
system at all in their language?
Our methodology was to use the skills they have developed for reading
and writing the other languages that they know. An alphabet -
spelling system - might as well conform as closely as possible to the
other languages that they have to engage with, so that people can
transfer skills from one language to another.
The ideal spelling system matches sounds to letters in a regular and
consistent way, much as Welsh does - and Hausa - and not like English!
The Tera team used Hausa spelling as a basis for the vowels and
consonants as far as they could, and supplemented it with a few items
from English like p and ch. They got the idea of using h to
mean "something like"; for example, as sh is a bit like an s in sound
(think of how Welsh spells the sh sound), so zh is used for a sound a
bit like z (actually like the middle sound of leisure and vision -
and just like in Dr Zhivago!).
They use kh for a sound similar to k, equivalent to Welsh ch; and
parallel to kh, they need a gh. They use ng at the beginning of words
just like in Welsh, and also mb and nd, but the most amazing thing is
that they have exactly the same sound as a Welsh ll.
I truly was amazed, because in all my reading and research for this
project, there was never a hint that any language in Nigeria had
anything like our Welsh ll. But they too were amazed that a visitor -
and a white man at that - could say their own special distinctive
sound without any trouble!
Their own name for themselves also contains the Welsh ll: Nyimatli
(Welsh spelling: niumallu).
The tl sound does not occur in Hausa or in English, and they could
not use ll, because it is possible to have words with a double ll
sounding in the middle of their words, but they do not have the
possibility of a l sound following a t sound.
To complete the consonant chart, Tera has so-called implosive sounds
like Hausa, where you get a kind of b, d, g by sucking air in; they
simply use the special Hausa letters for the first two and q for the
The vowels were much simpler, just six of them. Five are easy, and
they could use the five vowel letters of our alphabet: a (as in man),
e (as in men), i (as in Welsh ni), o (as in Welsh glo) and u (as in
glue). Their sixth vowel has a distinctly North Walian flavour to it,
just like their pronunciation of ty ('house'), but the Tera have
chosen to spell it with u.
One enterprising man has produced an alphabet chart and two little
booklets of stories from the Bible and is planning to produce a
series of wall charts on things they use at home, at school, on types
of animals and birds, and so on.
Others are undergoing translation training to prepare the Gospels in
Tera. One of them is doing a computing course to enable the team to
produce their own printed materials in Tera; another, who did his
Masters in Education at Cardiff University, has produced a training
manual to help teachers to learn to read and write their own
language. One great hope is that local governments will be persuaded
to introduce reading and writing in Tera in primary schools.
Who is paying for all this? Primarily it is the local community. The
whole project is theirs; the initiative was theirs and the ongoing
support, and The Seed Company has responded in kind.
But the planning and the decision making beyond that lie in the hands
in the local community. It is their project; we have helped to
establish it, but with their orthography and training, and with
enthusiasm and enterprise, they will carry it on.
Enthusiasm? Goodness me! I couldn't stop them. We began each morning
at 8.30am and continued non-stop until 12.30pm, and if lunch was
late, we had to carry on until it arrived. We began again after a
siesta at 2pm and continued, again non-stop, until 6pm - or later if
the evening meal was delayed.
We kept this pace up for three intensive weeks. We began work on an
elementary dictionary - we needed to do that to be sure of where
words began and ended.
This is the year for Africa. Don't think of Africa as just a hopeless
case, with rampant HIV/AIDS, famine, poverty, corruption and
dictatorships. Africa is more than that: there are also plenty of
ordinary people with honest hopes and ambitions, great concern and
compassion, a will to achieve something good for their community,
resourceful, skilled and educated, ready to work with just a little
help from others. Let's hope that our governments and NGOs will
support all such efforts, in education as well as health and the
Paul Tench is Senior Lecturer, Centre for Language and Communication
Research at Cardiff University
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© owned by or licensed to Trinity Mirror Plc 2005
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